Britain was once branded as “a nation of shopkeepers”.  Unfortunately, that image has slowly disintegrated, and very recently, the destruction of the small shop has become so commonplace.[ad#ad-1]

As an American, I do find it convenient to shop for everything in one place. But the quaintness of the small family-owned shops is so essentially British that I hate to see that institution dying.

When we made up our minds to move here, we thought we’d like to support these small shops. Unfortunately, with the recession, it has been difficult.  We live in an out-of-the-way spot, where there are no small shops, so it’s easiest to go to the nearest grocery store for everything.  Also, it’s the big shops that can offer special deals, and when money is tight, it’s the driving force.

But, there are other shops that are closing down due to competition, not from major retail chains, but from charity shops.  And this makes it even sadder.  I have seen four small bookshops close recently in towns nearby.  I love books, but I especially love the old, used ones.  And two of those bookshops sold used books.  Unfortunately, the charity shops have taken business away from these stores, making it harder for them to compete against the big names, like WH Smith or Waterstone’s.

Though I shouldn’t rant on charity shops, I can’t help it.  These charity stores are unlike the thrift stores in the US.  Of course, they do whatever it takes to make money for their charities, but I can’t help wondering how much of their money actually goes to benefit the charity, and how much goes to pay the executives, etc.  In addition, some of their pricing is more like a discount boutique.  They even strive to look like one.

There is a charity bookshop that we shop at.  We support it because the pricing is very good – not inflated like the charity boutiques.  Also, they don’t appear to trash anything.  The boutiques only like to display books that look new.  Then there are charity stores that aim to look like antique stores, so their pricing also reflects that.

So, yes, I bemoan the fate of the family-run bookshops that face competition from two sides.  I have noticed also that some of the clothing shops are ready to go the same route.  It won’t be long before the little baker’s and butcher’s will face that fate (though they can’t blame charity stores for their demise).

I hate that feeling of needing a vacation from a vacation, but that’s how it always feels like when I come back from a holiday trip.  Since we wanted the kids to enjoy a normal holiday, we went out of town for a few days.  It was nice to come back and find out that my registration for a license has been approved.  I still have to complete an identity check, but in the meantime, I can scout around for a job.  We also have some landlord issues that need resolving and hopefully that can be accomplished before our lease runs out.  Anyhow, for the next few posts, I hope to get some pictures of some of the things we enjoyed recently.[ad#ad-1]

I’ll start by talking about High Rocks in the Tunbridge Wells area.  They are located in the Rusthall Commons area.  At one time, the commons were just open areas of land that were used for grazing, but over the years, houses have sprung up and many areas have become overgrown with vegetation.  However, there are some natural rock formations that have survived.  But, in order to keep them in good order, it is now run by a trust, and admission is charged.  Yet, it appears that the gate is not always manned, so some people might be able to sneak in.  We have never been ones to take those kinds of risk.

There are walking paths around the rock formations, as well as stairs and bridges to get to the top and across from rock to rock.  Various groups of rock climbers were taking advantage of the nice weather on the day we visited.  Apparently, there are rock climbing guides and High Rocks was included, with hints on how to climb the rocks.  These are not huge rocks and some of the climbers only used their hands and feet to get to the top; but there are some that are higher, requiring some ropes.  The kids imagined themselves as climbers and went up some of the smaller rocks.

There were several inscriptions on some of the rocks, dating back to the 1800s.  Of course, many visitors marked their names on the rocks as well.  But, we were on the look-out for an inscription from the 1700s.  We never found it, but we believe we located the right rock.  It was called “Bell Rock” because legend has it that if you threw a stone into it, it would make a sound like a bell ringing.  However, it is believed that it no longer makes that sound because of moss, damp and various other natural processes.  The inscription was left by a visitor, whose dog fell down the rock and died.

There was a rock called “Toad Rock” because it supposedly resembles a toad – you really have to use your imagination.  The other rocks used to be given other names as well, with respect to objects they resembled.  We’ll need to get some sort of guide book from the library.  In times past, there were huts set up between the rocks for hikers and climbers, but most of them are now lying in ruins.  There was even a tea shop set up in one of the huts, but it is gone.  A rhododendron maze attached to the rocks area is now overrun.  Despite all this, the area does serve as a very nice backdrop for a picnic.  There was even a wedding reception taking place while we were visiting.[ad#ad-1]

Which brings us to the pub.  It appears that the reception was being catered from the High Rocks Inn, which is also where you need to go for tickets into the rocks.  Thankfully, there was a large public car park for visitors and it was free.  The inn is located across the street from the rocks and it has a beautiful garden.  And while you’re up there, you can see the Spa Valley steam railway making trips up and down from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge.

We have yet to explore the historic parts of Tunbridge Wells, such as the chalybeate springs and the Pantilles.  That will be for another day.